I was devastated, as were the other agents at our office upon learning in early 2012 that our real estate office would be closing. When I started in real estate eight years earlier, I planned to work at a name brand brokerage for two years and then to at least think about striking out on my own. But, I got comfortable in that brokerage and formed close friendships. My daughter and husband had joined my team, and we were making a living together.
In a previous "life," I had quit teaching to become a traveling sales rep. My territory fell apart when I broke my knee and went through a long recovery process. The territory's demise was helped by my manager's "benign non-intervention" while I was disabled, rapidly followed by his not-so-benign intervention in trimming my territory and eventually telling me that my time with the company was at an end. I simply had no chance of meeting my sales commitment in a smaller territory or to maintain the territory in my still recovering physical state.
A "sales commitment," by the way, is supposedly a joint agreement between the salesperson and the manager, but often there is a degree of implied force. The numbers are usually the ones the manager wants. Failure to meet the commitment puts a target on the salesperson's back. Most sales professionals live with a sales target, figuratively on their backs and literally on a contract.
I had been a state and nationally recognized teacher. I had been recognized by my state association as Teacher of the Year. My students had won state and national contests every year. I spoke at state and national conferences. Failure as a traveling salesperson was a tough pill to swallow.
I met the new territory sales rep at a function where I was a speaker a few weeks after she had been hired. Sweet young thing that she was, she walked up to me, thrust out her hand, and announced enthusiastically, "Hi! I'm your replacement!" Now, I admit that I was not at all surprised that she was probably 30 years younger than I, no telling how many pounds lighter, and a few inches taller; BUT she wasn't smarter. She probably was not as compassionate toward clients as I had learned to be, and she certainly did not yet know the territory, the business, or the products as well as I had come to know them.
Though I was smiling, my response to her was, "You have been hired for the job. Whether or not you will actually REPLACE me remains to be seen. Glad to meet you." That was 2004, the year I started in real estate. The sweet, young replacement lasted about six months. Two or three "replacements" later, the territory that I had painfully maintained and grown over 12 years had shriveled and was merged with a much larger territory. My former company had only a handful of clients in what used to be my territory. Turns out, maybe I wasn't so easy to REPLACE, after all.
I learned a lot from that traveling sales experience, both about success and about failure, and it has served me well in real estate. At the start of my venture into real estate, I was starting over in a new, THIRD, career after a year of coping with and then recovering from the devastating injury. In fact, I was still in physical therapy following a second surgery, and I still had a noticeable limp when I passed the real estate test and placed my license with a franchise company. I was mature enough to know that I couldn't just depend on a "build it and they will come" mentality. I had to go after customers.
It may look easy from the outside, but making a living in real estate is tough, really tough. Don't assume that you can REPLACE other agents in the market, just because you are there. You have to create your own client base, and you have to create your own sales personality. It's about learning and honing new skills, about YOU figuring out what YOU bring to the game, and then telling that story to an audience that you CREATE for your business.
Do I have a formula to give you? No, but there are many programs out there that offer sales training and real estate sales training. Take some of the classes, like I did. Do the homework. Write the scripts. Knock on the doors. Work your sphere of influence (you'll learn about that in sales training whether it is real estate sales or sales in general). Be brave and face failure while you seek success. Expect a lot of disappointment; but as the song goes, "Shake it off." A seasoned salesman in my church told me that a successful salesperson gets about 11 doors slammed in the face for every one open door. Try to whittle down that ratio.
One evening just days before the locks were to be changed on the real estate office where I had worked for eight years, I was sitting at my desk, or rather I was sobbing at my desk. "I'm too old to start over again," I lamented, truly heartbroken. After a few minutes, my wise daughter came over with her hands on her hips and her tapping toe thrust forward in a motherly, scolding stance and said, "I have something to say about all this. In two years, you will be two years older. You can either be two years older still feeling the same way or you can be two years older in your own brokerage. I'd say that the time to get started is NOW." Through my tears, I laughed at our reversal of roles, and then we did just that.
We struck out on our own and founded Riverbend Realty. We have not looked back, even when meaning the "our daily bread" part as we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread;" even when I had several medical problems, including open heart surgery not quite six months after starting our company; even when the bathroom doesn't work or the hot water heater breaks. We have listings, we have sales (sometimes just enough to pay the bills), and we have awesome, loyal agents and clients. Most of all, we have each other and a shared future ahead of us. You can start over...or you can simply be two years older two years from now.